Mélanie Johnsson is a freelance graphic designer, illustrator and letterer from France, now living in London. She designs for brands across different fields: luxury, travel, cosmetics, art, fashion and also loves to work with passionate individuals. We are so glad to have come across her work through our Creative Lady Directory and excited to share her wisdom with you, enjoy!
Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance graphic designer, illustrator, and letterer.
I come from a French family of designers and all round creative people. I was raised knowing that I could one day earn a living doing what I love, whatever it might be. I always knew I wanted to make things, but it took me a while to figure out exactly what. I went to art school in Paris thinking I would become a shoe designer. But instead, I fell in love with graphic design and photography. After I graduated, I traveled to Chile for a few months on my own, and that’s where my love for illustration was born. I spent all my time drawing and I have never stopped since. Drawing keeps me sane and happy.
I moved to London around 3 years ago. I first found a graphic design position in a travel company where I worked for a year, before realising that freelance life was calling for me. I took the plunge to work for myself and simultaneously became obsessed with brush lettering! Everything snowballed from there.
In the beginning, how did you attract your first good clients?
The beginning was all word of mouth. The design world in London is really diverse but a lot of people know each other, and if you always strive to do a great job and are lovely to work with, people will happily recommend you to their friends and/or clients. The key is to do always do your best work, things will grow organically from that. I also got a few clients from Instagram and I still do get lots of projects through this platform. It really amazes me how powerful it is!
Do you have any tips for being your most productive?
I always tidy my workspace a the end of each day so that I start the next day with a wonderfully clean and tidy desk. A tidy environment equals a clear mind, and that’s very helpful when you need to be creative. I’m obsessed with making to do lists, I drink a lot of tea (Oh no, I’m turning British!) and try to exercise everyday. I believe you have to be healthy to be your most productive.
What has been your greatest struggle as a freelancer so far?
My biggest struggle so far has been to navigate the high and lows of freelance life. The busy periods versus the less busy periods. It’s a natural thing, especially when you’re starting out, but it can easily make you feel worthless and stressed.
My best remedy is to keep doing what you love, work on personal projects and get your work noticed. Oh and also, take care of yourself.
How do you continue to attract your ideal clients?
The magic of social media and putting yourself out there! I get a lot of dream clients from Instagram. I think the key is to keep sharing what you do. Doing work that you love will attract similar dream jobs.
This year though, I decided to make the move to only working with brands and people that are doing things differently for the better, standing for the same creativity and meaningful causes (read: preserve the planet) that I do. So I am now actively looking for these brands and reaching out to them, hoping their actions coupled with my creative skills can help spread awareness.
Do you have any tips for dealing with the nitty-gritty business details?
Being organised and thorough is key if you’re thinking of being your own boss. I’ve got a pretty good system to invoice, chase and do all the bookkeeping bits. I don’t use any app, I just do it all on my computer. I found a little accountancy company that I pay only when I need my tax return to be done, it’s a life saver!
Since you are your own boss, do you have any advice for maintaining a work-life balance?
I don’t really differentiate work from life. They’re completely intertwined and that’s how I love it. I know I need to be happy and healthy to make great work, because as a creative, my mind - and my right hand - are my most important tools. I’m good at saying no to work that doesn’t feel right, at taking naps when needed, at taking time off to travel and feel inspired. It’s all pretty intense, but I like it this way. (I hope this isn’t bad advice! Everyone should find a system that works for them and allow them to be their best self).
If you could share one thing with your "just starting out" self, what would it be?
Be patient and trust that things will naturally work out.
How do you stay creatively inspired?
I try to stay curious and open-minded. Nature and travel are my greatest source of inspiration, closely followed by cinema and people. I am a sucker for great stories, fictional or real ones.
Any music, podcast, or book recommendations that you'd like to share?
Oh, I am obsessed with podcasts. Working from my home studio and on my own most of the time, it’s delightful to listen to people chat as if they were next to me. My current favourites are Kermode & Mayo’s film review (for film lovers - bonus: they’re hilarious), Stuff you should know (for random but interesting facts), Clever (for the best interviews of designers) and Design Matters (for the fantastic Debbie Millman).
In terms of music, I’ve been playing the soundtrack of Call me by your name on repeat and have been loving Joanna Newsom’s album Divers. Other than that, I’m very into 80’s music (David Bowie, Michael Jackson, Queen amongst other). It never fails to lift my spirits.
Book wise, I just finished The Course of Love by Alain de Botton and How to stop time by Matt Haig which I both loved.
Are there any projects on which you're ruminating that you'd like to make time for someday?
So many! There is this big editorial project I’ve been obsessed with for a few years and am now starting to work on and trying to assemble a team to help. I’m hoping to have it become reality in the next couple of years. Other than that, I’d like to find time to start making fun videos - brush lettering and illustration tutorials, behind the scenes and other gems.
The 3 greatest attributes you need to be a freelance creative are:
Perseverance, curiosity, resilience.